From barefoot beach festivals in Barbados to road tripping along the California coast, a Northern Lights polar expedition, and camping in New Hampshire, the message was clear that opportunities await for every budget.
The New York Times Travel Show, held every January, packs adventure seekers and armchair travelers into the Javits Center for two days designed to lure them into the world of wanderlust. The preceding day is reserved for travel advisors (formerly called agents) anxious to up their games by connecting with thought-leaders about the state of the travel industry – what happened in 2018 and what’s new for 2019.
Although people increasingly search online for Bora Bora and exotic islands, they are more apt to go to Hawaii and Key West, which remain two top American vacation destinations. New Orleans is also popular because of its authenticity in regional cuisine and music – both big factors for fun-seekers.
Internationally, travelers are discovering Vietnam, Cambodia and Portugal, with river cruises on Portugal’s Duoro River “selling like hotcakes” according to Kristin Karst, executive vice president/co-owner of AmaWaterways. The Danube River in Romania includes the intrigue of visiting Dracula’s Castle.
London, Barcelona, Ireland, Iceland and Italy are still popular, but expect competition from big cruise ships sailing from New York to Cuba in 2019, and more cruises leaving from the West Coast.
Multigenerational family trips – As grandparents create opportunities to see their kids and grandchildren. The “family home” doesn’t exist as it did in years gone by; baby boomers downsize, and society has become more mobile. All-inclusive resorts, active river cruises and villa rentals become gathering places, allowing everyone time to do their own thing and also enjoy quality time together.
Skipped-generation travel (grandparents and grandchildren) – For grandparents who live far from their adult children. “Taking the kids for a week” gives mom and dad time for a romantic getaway or just a break. It’s a win-win.
Wellness travel – Meditation, yoga, spa treatments, nutritious meals, hiking, kayaking – whatever it takes for self-rejuvenation. Beware of resorts that use “wellness” as a buzz word. Quality matters.
Road trips – Thanks to GPS, more people enjoy the freedom and affordability of driving with no airport hassle and without having to cram everything into one little carry-on. How many national parks have you visited?
Festivals – Because what frees the spirit more than music and art?
Shared accommodations (such as Airbnb and VRBO) – Economy accommodations aren’t just for the younger crowd, and some Airbnb hosts now serve as local tour guides.
Bleisure travel – Combines business travel with leisure time tagged on.
Off-season travel – Deals get better as popular destinations (like Venice, Iceland and Machu Picchu) find new ways to deal with an influx of visitors.
Small is Big – Last year’s 30 percent increase in small ship cruising was largely due to longboats that can slide into river ports that are inaccessible to big cruise ships, said Jennifer Tombaugh, president of Tauck. More immersive experiences are available to small groups and independent travelers.
The rise in multigenerational travel makes sense when you understand millennials, people born in the 1980s or 1990s. We’re talking about 75 million Americans between the ages of 20 and 39, half of whom are married with children, 25 percent are married without children, 25 percent are single. (statistics courtesy of Steve Cohen, senior vice president of market research company Travel Insights and MMGY Global)
Destination weddings have taken the millennial generation to a “let’s go” state of mind, with high expectations for comfort and great food. The growing millennial travel market feeds the growth of street food, food tours, wine tours, distillery and brewery tours. It’s about local authentic experiences.
Millennials may represent the fastest growth sector for travel, but baby boomers still spend the most per trip. Tour operators and hotel chains are becoming more sensitive to the needs of physically challenged travelers, and not just because of the aging baby boom generation. Today’s younger generations make up the most inclusive subset of society we’ve ever seen. With many millennials moving up the ladder in corporate travel jobs, companies are (finally) rethinking the way they approach accessibility for all, including single or solo travelers who often get hit with a seemingly unfair single-supplement fee.
According to Cohen, the typical traveler spends 3.2 hours each day on the Internet for personal use. 44 percent of this time is spent on social media. About 20 percent of people pick a destination based on social media content (31 percent for millennials.)
Knowing this, brands are using digital platforms and apps to allow people to personalize their trips – 90 percent of travelers use a mobile device at their destination for maps and navigation, 87 percent to find places to eat. Consumers expect free Wi-Fi and usually get it. In return, suppliers get your data so they can learn your preferences and personalize their marketing efforts directly at you.
As climate change and overtouristing may potentially “ruin” some travel experiences people have dreamed of, there’s a consumer-driven sense of urgency to “do it now” before it’s too late. Coral reefs are dying, rising waters erode beaches, droughts affect water levels in rivers. The industry believes it’s going to get worse before it gets better.
Without a doubt, it’s still a beautiful world. Travel gives people a chance to escape the craziness of life. Travel has the power to put you in a healthy place. About 36 percent of surveyed travelers said they would want to take a trip alone to get away and explore something new. For the majority though, the industry consensus is that the #1 reason most people travel is to spend time with people they love.
Marcia Simon, APR, CTA, an IATA-accredited travel advisor and PRSA-accredited public relations practitioner, is principal/owner of friendlygrouptravel.com and MSE Public Relations. Connect through facebook.com/friendlygrouptravel or firstname.lastname@example.org.